NASA’s Juno Spacecraft is investigating Jupiter in a series of 37 orbits, and though images, data, and samples, these remarkable flybys have revealed some very cool things: 900 mile wide cyclones at the planet’s poles, an interior core that “appears bigger than expected“, and a magnetic field that’s ten times stronger than Earth’s… that’s two times more powerful than predicted. Plus, there’s more data to come. From The New York Times:
Juno takes 53 days to loop around Jupiter in a highly elliptical orbit, but most of the data gathering occurs in two-hour bursts when it accelerates to 129,000 miles an hour and dives to within about 2,600 miles of the cloud tops. The spacecraft’s instruments peer far beneath, giving glimpses of the inside of the planet, the solar system’s largest.
Compare it with 3531 frames of raw Jupiter footage from Voyager 1 in 1979:
Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, and will continue its flybys until the end of its mission—a ‘deorbit’ into Jupiter—originally planned for February 2018. To successfully operate during the entire mission, the solar-powered spacecraft was designed with a special titanium radiation vault to protect it from Jupiter’s severe radiation:
Each titanium wall measures nearly a square meter (nearly 9 square feet) in area, about 1 centimeter (a third of an inch) in thickness, and 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in mass. This titanium box — about the size of an SUV’s trunk – encloses Juno’s command and data handling box (the spacecraft’s brain), power and data distribution unit (its heart) and about 20 other electronic assemblies. The whole vault weighs about 200 kilograms (500 pounds).
Below, a shorter soundless version of the animated images:
The next flyby on July 11 will fly directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Related listening at SciFri: Jupiter Surprises In Its Closeup. Related reading: How The Juno Spacecraft Will Survive Jupiter’s Devastating Radiation. Plus more background in video form: Piercing Jupiter’s Clouds.
Also happening until September 2017: Cassini’s Grand Finale, our daring last months orbiting Saturn.